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It’s time for the Church to reimagine orphan care

A woman walks with orphans at the AGOHELD orphanage, hospital, training center and school, founded by Abebech Gobena, on March 19, 2013, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A woman walks with orphans at the AGOHELD orphanage, hospital, training center and school, founded by Abebech Gobena, on March 19, 2013, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

A grassroots group within the United Methodist Church is poised to facilitate a potentially groundbreaking shift in American support for orphaned and vulnerable children worldwide through a new initiative, A Strong Family for Every Child.

Just last month, church members, leaders and clergy gathered for a simple shared meal and conversation, marking the first event for this initiative. They had a chance to engage in deep discussions about what it means to be called as Christians to orphan care — and how we ought to approach that calling.

We’re nearing a watershed moment in orphan care practices. Christians in the U.S. have invested their charity dollars, time, talents and hearts into this mission, and we’re seeing just how much the way those investments are made matters. We have gained a better understanding of the issues that drive the staggering number of children living separated from home and family, estimated to be about 150 million. Now, we can adopt strategies for supporting these vulnerable children that will end the revolving door of poverty and orphanhood.

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If we can equip our churches and the millions of Americans who want to help the orphaned and vulnerable with the tools to provide a strong family for every child, we will better serve the children, and better serve our congregations in the process. It’s the right time for our church to make this mission known, perhaps even the perfect time.

A wealth of research and experience shows us that the scriptural plan for children to grow up in a family was exactly right. Childrendevelop better in every measurable category when they are raised in families compared to orphanages or children’s homes. They are better-served emotionally, physically, cognitively and socially.

We live in a broken world, and orphans have always been with us. Acting as God’s hands and feet, the Church has witnessed and ministered to them from its beginning. We’ve done this work with joy, knowing that it mirrors God’s love for us. Through this initiative, we intend to build on that legacy and engage the denomination as a whole in the mission.

Simply put, congregations that take on orphan and family ministries transform and grow. We have a chance to invigorate church communities, improve the outcomes for orphaned and vulnerable children around the world, and turn the tide so that millions more will not become separated from family in crisis and orphaned by the scourge of poverty.

This is not an aspirational goal, but a practical one. With the appropriate support, every child can grow up in a family of their very own, whether that’s their biological or an adoptive family. The vast majority of children who end up in orphanages have living family members, usually a remaining parent without the means to provide adequate care. These families often just need some assistance to care for their children, and we can help ensure that assistance is available.

It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to orphan ministry or have been knee-deep in the work for decades — there is a role for you to play in this move toward family-based care. I’ve seen firsthand the life-changing impact it can have on the lives of vulnerable children through my work with Helping Children Worldwide. I know many others in this line of work have shared this experience as well. 

That’s why this moment is so exciting: We have a chance to reframe one of our most important callings as Christians and join in a mission that truly sets the lonely into families. With it, we’ve been given an opportunity to renew our faith and our commitment to Christian witness in our own communities and around the world.

So, join us, and help us shape the future of orphan care. Help us reignite a passion for “pure and faultless” religion, our abiding Christian mandate: Ministry to the vulnerable in their distress. You can start by learning about the importance of family-based care and sharing this critical message with your church community. By doing so, we help to set vulnerable children up for a lifetime of love and belonging within the safety of a family.

Dr. Laura Horvath is the director of program development and global engagement at Helping Children Worldwide, a ministry partner of A Strong Family For Every Child.

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